Bryce Canyon NP -- Bryce Amphitheater Loop (4-20-17)
“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” -- Edward Abbey
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of those rare places where the beauty of nature takes a form so incredibly fantastic, beautiful, and unique that a person like me struggles to arrange adequate words to describe it. Here, in the high desert country of central Utah, is a masterpiece of stone. Spilling from the edges of a massive evergreen-topped mesa a kaleidoscopic red and orange landscape of sandstone hoodoos, fins, and natural bridges creates a vista unmatched among National Parks. It is a landscape that has been formed over the eons by countless cycles of rain, freeze, and thaw as relatively soft sedimentary rock which underlies the surrounding high mesa is slowly broken down. In the process a myriad of natural stone sculptures are formed, made all the more dramatic by certain minerals (hematite, lemonite, pyrolusite) which color them in reds, yellows, and purples. Bryce Canyon is a magical place like no other...and this was our brief opportunity to discover it.
Bryce Canyon National Park encompasses and protects some 36,000-acres (56 sq. mi.) of the high Colorado Plateau. Located roughly midway between Zion National Park to the southwest and Capitol Reef National Park to the northeast, Bryce Canyon is remote but nonetheless draws well over 2 million visitors a year to see its wonders. The park itself was formed in 1923 as a National Monument but soon after, in 1928, it was promoted to National Park status. A single paved road, built by the CCC in the 1930's, runs eighteen miles through the heart of the park and provides access to most of the major natural attractions. The most iconic portion of the park, known as the Bryce Amphitheater, is located just a few miles from the main entrance. If you've seen a painting, poster, or mural of Bryce Canyon the amphitheater is likely what you're looking at. It was into this magnificent maze of hoodoos and cliffs that we would be wandering on this amazing day.
Our hike would begin from the overlook of the amphitheater known as Sunset Point. This is perhaps the classic Bryce Canyon hike so it can definitely be a busy one, as it was on our visit. From the overlook we'd descend from the mesa's rim and enter among the rock spires and canyons of the Navajo Loop Trail. We'd pass by such famous formations as 'Thor's Hammer' and the 'Twin Bridges' as we gradually made our way to the forested river valley below. Once beneath the cliffs we'd head north following the Queen's Garden Trail, named for yet another portion of the magnificent Bryce Amphitheater where arguably the most colorful and dramatic formations are located. The Queen's Garden Trail climbs gradually to moderately for most of its length as it winds beneath, around, and even through sandstone pinnacles of every shape, size, and color. The senses are simply overwhelmed here. There's nothing like it anywhere and your mind simply has no reference to help comprehend what its seeing. If you're like us, you'll walk this hike in a mixed state of wonder and awe. Eventually the trail regains the rim of the mesa at Sunrise Point, about a half mile south by trail from Sunset Point where the loop begins. The walk between the points to close the loop is every bit as spectacular as what comes before as you are treated to open panoramic views of the entire amphitheater spread out below. All I can say is I hope you have your camera fully charged if you decide to head out on this little hike.
So, without further adieu, I present to you one of the most uniquely beautiful short day-hikes I have ever done. If you have a life-list of hikes, this one should be on it. I could probably go on gushing about it for another dozen paragraphs but I'll just let the pictures do the talking for me. As always, please enjoy...I hope this humble album can at least give a taste of what Bryce Canyon National Park has to offer...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.623471, -112.167264
Mileage Hiked: 3.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 55'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 7,400' Max. Elevation: 8,000'
Total Vertical Gain: 600' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 200'